James Comey Part 2: The Hillary Clinton email investigation

Comey tells ABC News' George Stephanopoulos he became uncomfortable when his boss, then Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asked him to describe the Clinton email investigation as a "matter."
9:09 | 04/16/18

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Transcript for James Comey Part 2: The Hillary Clinton email investigation
??? In the middle ??? Reporter:mer, the prential race in full swing, a bitter battle between two celeies with usual baggage. Right in the me, FBI dire James Comey, conducting investigations that threatened both campaig we're going to turw to the latest batch of Hillary Clinton e-mails. Ier sent classified material on my e-mail, and I never ived any that was marked classified. Reporter: You did know from the start that this case was gonna be tro. Yea I knew this was a no-win siion. Angry at us no matter what we do. The deputy director looked at me and said, kre totally screwed, right?" And I smiled. And I said, "Yup. Nody gets out alive." And this may sound strange, that's kin freeing. Reporter: Critics say the fix was in from the start. President trump Su writing the the conclusion even foerviewed Hillary Clinton. That is wrong. Anybody who's actually done investigations knows that if you've been investigating something for almost a year and you don'veeral sense of where it's likely to end up, you ld be fired bee you're incompetent. Reporter: And to those who say you should've T Hillary Clinton before a grand jury? We would prefer with a subjof an investign to do an infontview. A lot relity there. They're still required tll the trh. Reporter: Comey was a man in colict. Was his boss, atey Loretta lynch, compromised by the public perception that she too close to the con camp? His first concern, wsh him to rer to the into e-mail controversy a"m rather than an "Investigation." Did you think she was doing thatto protectillary CLI? I didn't know. It worried me. It gave me an uncomfortable feeling because the ton campaign had been trying to up with other words to describe it. And the F straw, lynch'sting on an airport tarmac with president Bill Clinton. I ded step -- as much as I like her, I have to Y from her show the erican people the FBI's work separately. Rter: Believing the credibility of the department of Stice was stake, Heade a dramatic and unprecedented move, calling a press confce wiout telling his boss what he would say. The fbdirector James Comey is about to give a statement to the pr I'm here to give you an date on the FBI's investigation of secretary Clinton's use of a personal e-mail system. Reporter: Your critics sa this is where your ego got the best of you. This was your or sin. If it was about ego, why uld I steput in fronof the ganization and get shot 1,000 times? Actually thought, as bad as this'll be for me personally, this is my obligation, prott the FBI ane E department. Given all that had gone on, the attorney generalthe united stacould not credibly announ this resu. And if she did, it would do corrosive damage to the institutions of justice. Or Comey coned there was no criminal intent andno reason to prosecute Clinton. But he was also harshly ical. Secretary Clinton used several differernt ser, contained top secrrmation. There is evidence that they were extrcareless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified infoion. Reporter: Your crs say yod way too much information. Way they P it, "List, in the FBI, we si do not bldy people we choose not to prosecute." Look, that's fair critici the mef justice S long done that. Repor the department of justice, not the FBI director? That's ri what was unusual about this, in fact unprecedented in experience, is that I decided S importanatpeak separately from the attorney general. Eporter: W not put out a liment, "We cline to prosecute"? If you issue a one-liner from the obamstice departme about one the democratic nominee for president T united ss, and say, "We're done here," corrosive doubt cr in that T system is rigg somehow. Rter: Can you assure people that the obamice departme not protecting Hillary Clinton? Yes. E FBI drovthis investion and we did it in a comnt and indeent way. Ult my life that. Reporter: The response from the trump campaign was immed ex I always felt that Hillary Clinton would es criminalrger ngerous anillegal behavior because I always knew our system is rigged.'s so sad that our system is in fact rigged. It's totally Rd. Rter: What voters did not know was even as the FBI very publicallysed the Clinton case, it soon opens the ru investion on therump campaign. We opened an investigation inhether there wany Americans associ in any way th the trump campaign who were working with Russia Ast of ru's effort to influence our election. Reporter: The trigger, Comey says, informatth campaign adv, George papadopoulos, had met a who told him Russia had political dirt on hillarinton. Russia, iu are listing. Pe you are able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. Rter: What E you inking the as you see president trump invite the Russians to release hiary Clinton's e-mails, as you see him refuse to criticize Vladimir Putin? 'M thinking the quons that we're asking ves, which is, is anybody -- is the trump campaign in any way rking direly with th ssians? Reporter: Despite the e-mail controversy the fall Hillary Clinton is riding high. At this point HT wrapped this race up. Reporter: Until the October surprise she nevaw coming. While wog a separate case nst Anthony weinere hand of one of Clinton's top aides, fgents find hundreds of thousands of Hillary Clinton's e-mails on Wein laptop.but kept that information secret for week And the questi for me now is, "So what do we do now?" The norm is,u can avoid it, you take no action that ghhave an im on an election. And I T that's labeled, "No action here." Reporter: So he days othe election, Comey sends a letter informing congress he is reopening the ton investigation congress tells the world. Secretary Clinton, any reactiondirector Comey reopening his investigation into your e-mails? Whaeen contact by anyone. The first we knew about it is assume when knew about it. This isiggest political scandal since wae. Repr: Comey ss he had no choice. You could try to find out first whether or they were indeed relent. Whether there was evidence there of a crime. Well, maybe.ane another rector might have Donat. My view is that would be a potentially de irresponsible and dangerous thing to do. Reporter: But we don't know 'S in it. L, there are hundrethof hillarinton's e-ils there. That's an affirmative act of concealment. Reporter: That's the judgment you made. Boy, you seem to be alone in that jgment. You look at previous atty generals for president bush, for president Ford, for president Obama, justice depant official for prident clinn. They all disagree with you. Say this ossed a LI. Yeah, I've heard a lot of that. I would hope is that they would, by reading the B come with me to October 28th. Tell me what you would do. Reporter:our criticsay this is a clear, clear, clear double stand you revealed information about Ary Clinton, youcealed information about donarump. That elected Donald Trump. Take a step back and star the two cases and the posture they were in. The Hillary Clinton e-mail C was public, and the corintelligence investigations trying to figure out whether a small group of people, not Donald Trump -- we ot investingnald trump. Whether sroup of Americans was coordinating anythingith the Russians. We had just started the investigation. Know whether ad anything. So it would have been Al unfa to those people to talk about it. And it would have jeopardize the investign. Eporter: What did it feel like to be jamom last ten days of that campaign after you sent the letter? It sucked. I walked arounguely sick to my stomach, feeling beaten D I felt like I was totally alone, th everybodyated me. And that there wasn't a way out because it really was tht thing to Rorter: Ands this heated campaign goes down to the wire, Comey closes the Clinton investigion for a cod time. But to the Clinton campaign, the damage has Beene. If the election were held on October 27th, I'd be your presorter: If were sitting right here today, what would youtell her? Hilry Clinton wrote in her book, I shivved her. I meat sounds like I was trying to knife somebody, I out to ger. And it's illustration of our lion here th you've got the trummp, which I guess thinks I was trying to save Hillary CLI. I would hope both camps will read and, I hope, see a deeply flawed human surrounded by other flawed humans trying to make decisions with an eye, not on politics, but on those higher values. Reporter: Iu knew that letter would elect Donald Trump, D still send I I would. Down that path lies the death of the FBI as dependent rce inmerican life. If I ever start considering whose political fortunes WBE affected by a decision, we'r done. We'rst another play the tribattle. Nethe old fbdirector, thesident and an

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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